Anna Pigeon is back at Isle Royale in Lake Superior.  The last time she was here it was summer and those events occurred in the book titled “A Superior Death.” This time it is January and the island park is far different and not just because it is in the deep winter and closed to visitors. This time around she has been sent to observe the wolf study group in action.  With the fact that her current home park of Rocky Mountain National Park is slated to have wolves reintroduced to the park, District Ranger Anna Pigeon needs to learn all she can.

The study has been going on for fifty years effectively making sure that the park remains closed every winter so as not to disturb the wolves. That might be changing as Homeland Security is interested in opening the park year around to help seal the border. The theory being that increased traffic means increased security and the park and its creatures will just have to adjust. But, if there is a compelling reason to keep the study group going, beyond the usual justifications, then the bureaucrats at Homeland Security won’t get their way.  That political undercurrent is at work in the team along with other forces Anna can’t identify. 

Anna also can’t explain or identify why the three wolf packs are behaving so strangely right after her arrival in January.  Beyond the strange wolf prints, the abnormal wolf scat, the shape Anna may or may not have seen from the study team plane, there are other things happening.  Events that begin to lead to deaths of the survey team members. As the body count climbs and the count of survivors shrinks, Anna is pushed to her limits in an epic battle to survive.

This latest in the long running series is Nevada Barr’s best in years.  Featuring a cast of dysfunctional people, including Anna herself, under extreme weather conditions, Nevada Barr details one step at a time how otherwise competent people begin to crack under the constant strain. Some see this work as a locked room mystery set in the great outdoors. For this reader, the novel is more about how thin the veneer of civilization is and how easily it becomes to justify any action necessary to survive or excel.

Routinely comparing her physical limits now to the past when she was far younger, this is a more introspective Anna Pigeon, newly married and missing her husband. Nevada Barr has her frequently referring to the aging process and how the physical toll of the job, whether in the park on routine business or the events here, are taking a harder and harder toll as she ages. Instead of whining about it as it has seemed in the past, this is an Anna who not only has accepted the aging process, but frequently thinks that the younger generation has missed out on so much from a cultural and life experience standpoint. While there is always the suspicion in Anna’s mind that there is a rational explanation for everything, it doesn’t take long for her or readers to begin thinking otherwise. This is an Anna that is more at peace with herself and aware of both her faults and accomplishments. More than ever before, she has a life worth fighting for thanks to her recent marriage to Paul Davidson.  Pushed as maybe never before the result is a monumental struggle to survive.

Not only is “Winter Study” a wonderful read in its own right, the work is powerful testament to the stark beauty in the nation’s parks and a testament why some things have to be saved.

Winter Study

Nevada Barr

http://www.nevadabarr.com

G. P. Putnam’s Sons

http://www.penguin.com

2008

ISBN# 978-0-399-15458-4

370 Pages

Kevin R. Tipple © 2008

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